Quebec Studies

"Watching" the October Crisis Through Its Archival Records

Quebec Studies (2013), 55, (1), 69–76.


69 "Watching" the October Crisis Through Its Archival Records Paulette Dozois, Library and Archives Canada On 7 October 1970 the Department of External Affairs issued the following press release: A steel spiked gate, a dingy corridor and a blue cubicle separate the operations centre from the rest of the century old East Block on Parliament Hill. The centre, with its relief maps and humming teletypes, hot lines and intense workers, was busier than usual on Tuesday night. It is being used as the federal headquarters in the effort to get kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross back alive. The centre is on the second floor of the East Block, down the hall and around the corner from Prime Minister Trudeau's office. "You can't go in there today" an external affairs spokesman said. "There are three deputy ministers running around. It's too busy". Undersecretary of State E.A. Ritchie and others of his rank spent much of the night in or near the centre.1 What was this very secret place within the Department of External Affairs and what was its purpose? Called the Operations Centre, it mobilized very quickly — only one hour after the kidnapping of James Cross — on the morning of 5 October 1970. It remained in force until the airplane carrying Cross's kidnappers landed in Havana, Cuba on 4 December 1970. This article concentrates on the records now available for research at Library and Archives Canada of the above mentioned Department of External Affairs* Operations Centre. The records are rich in detail, fully document the myriad of issues which developed throughout the crisis, detail the work of all the participants — political, diplomatic, and govern­ mental — at international, federal, and provincial levels, and record all of the decision making processes throughout that critical time period. The records are unique as they were created, maintained, guarded, negotiated for, reviewed, and then transferred to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in their entirety. They were always maintained outside of the regular DEA central registry system, though they used the applicable registry numbers to document their endeavors. Throughout their life cycle they were located in various departmental offices including the Security and Intelligence Bureau, Legal Division, Access To Information and Privacy (ATIP) Office with a final stop at the Information Management Office before their transfer to Library and Archives Canada in 2006/2007.2 As the DEA archivist at LAC throughout the final years of this journey, I was able to watch and guard these records as they travelled throughout DEA. Québec Studies, Volume 55, Spring/Summer 2013

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Author details

Dozois, Paulette